Sunday, October 07, 2018

Harborough's Tory MP says his party could "go out of business"

When Neil O’Brien was hurriedly chosen as Conservative candidate for Harborough when last year's general election was announced, he was written up as one of the party's thinkers.

Judged on that basis, he has proved something of a disappointment. He deleted his tweets as soon as he was elected and refused to tell people how he had voted in the EU referendum.

My guess is that he voted Remain (he was a close associate of George Osborne), but did not want to upset his new constituency party, who most vocal members at least are strongly pro-Leave. But it is only a guess.

But I have come across a Guardian account of a speech O'Brien gave at a Conservative Conference fringe meeting that does show him as a thinker:
Neil O’Brien, who became MP for Harborough last year, noted that in the 2017 election there was a massive deficit between the Tories and Labour in terms of younger voters, and those from minority ethnic backgrounds. 
At the 2015 election, O’Brien said, the Tories lagged two percentage points behind Labour for voters in their 20s, and by four percentage points for those aged 18-24. Just two years later these deficits had shot up to 26 and 40 points behind. 
The party was also doing increasingly less well among other groups whose numbers were rising, such as those with degrees, people who were unmarried, and those who rented their homes or live in cities, said O’Brien, a former director of the Policy Exchange thinktank. 
"All these different social bases of Conservatism are being eroded," he said. “Either we have to do much better amongst these groups of people, or we’re going to go out of business as a political party.” 
Such structural changes would have an impact, he added: "It’s a bit like a beam that is rotting away, and eventually it snaps."
Thee Guardian reports some arguments from George Freeman that are also worth reading.

I think there is a lot in O'Brien's analysis, but whether the Conservative Party will want to hear it is another matter. One of the problems the party faces is that its reduced membership has made its activist base less and less typical of the wider electorate.

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